Watch at the Cross

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? ~Matthew 26:39-40

The church I attended from the time I was in eighth grade until I got married and moved away, played an important role in my early faith journey.  I was influenced by by many people and ministries while I was there, but one particular tradition comes to mind right now as we approach Easter.  From Good Friday evening until sunrise on Easter morning, we held a “Watch at the Cross” prayer vigil.  Church members would sign up for a one hour block of time, during which they would sit in the sanctuary and pray as they kept watch over the cross.  The goal was to have someone in the sanctuary praying every hour during that time frame.

I remember one year when I was a young adult, that the experience had a profound effect on me.  I sat in the sanctuary in the very early morning hours and silently watched the cross.  While I was there, I was deeply moved and wrote a poem that I want to share with you now.  It might be a little intense, but I hope it touches you the way I was touched when I wrote it.

My Watch at the Cross

I entered the chapel

     and sat to watch the cross.

A long black cloth

     was draped around its golden surface

making death seem very near.

     I watched

but nothing happened.

I felt indifferent

     and out of place,

but I kept watching.

     Still there was nothing.

And then I prayed.

The black drape fell away

     and the golden cross vanished.

I watched in awe.

There was a man

     with tired, tear-filled eyes

          whose head was bowed in prayer.

I watched him closely

until he rose

     and walked away.

I blinked

     and the weary man returned.

But this time he looked different.

His back was badly beaten,

     a crown of thorns

          sat on his head,

and blood dripped down his face.

I cringed, but couldn’t turn away.

A heavy cross was placed

     upon his shoulders.

And he carried it.

Up a long, steep road,

     bending beneath its weight;

he carried it.

When he reached the top of the hill,

he was nailed to it,

     and hung up high.

I watched more intently.

His eyes showed pain.

And yet,

     he smiled and said, “Forgive them”.

For threes hours he hung there

     while people laughed and jeered.

And then his head bowed,

     his eyes closed,

          his pain vanished.

He died.

And I watched the whole time.

     And I cried.

          And I knew.

What did I know?  I knew that Jesus had given up His life for me and for all of you.  I knew I didn’t deserve the sacrifice.  I knew it was done out of God’s amazing love and grace for all of us. I don’t like to think about the dark days right before Easter, but it’s important to remember them.  It’s also important to remember that it didn’t end there.  Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross.  God’s love for us didn’t die on that dreadful Friday long ago.  I know, and I hope that you know, that on that glorious third day, Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave.  Hallelujah!  Christ is risen!

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. ~Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Have a blessed Easter!

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